Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Get to the root of why daughter suddenly recoils from daddy
Maryland: Please help. My 6-year-old has all of a sudden started saying she doesn't want to be around her daddy (my husband). She hates when I leave the house without her and cries before and after he takes her anywhere himself. She used to adore him. My husband is clueless about what brought on this change and so am I.
I have started to think terrible thoughts, like that he might have done something to her I don't know about, but I hate to ask that and undermine our marriage on what might be the flightiness of a dramatic little girl. I have not yet asked a pediatrician about this.
Carolyn: Ask your pediatrician, immediately. I would say to ask your 6-year-old directly — she's certainly old enough to speak for herself — but you have to be so careful not to put words in a child's mouth that I feel more comfortable steering you to a pro. Also, the more serious the problem is, the more likely she'll struggle to make sense of it enough to put it into words, and/or the more frightened she'll be that telling the truth will get her in trouble.
I'm not trying to alarm you, just urging you to treat your daughter's behavior as an alarm, even while you keep your mind completely open about what the alarm is about. In other words, do not rush to any conclusions, but instead rush to competent, trained avenues for diagnosing the problem.
A dad with nothing to hide will presumably support, encourage and participate in this process, both for his daughter's benefit and for his own.
Anonymous: I had a friend years ago whose 4-year-old son started screaming and would not go in the car with the father. Neither parent knew what was wrong. Long story short — about six months later it came out that he had been in the car when his dad had to slam on the brakes to avoid a bad accident, in which someone on a bike got hit by another car. The kid saw the whole thing and was afraid to get in the car with the father, and was also afraid of his bike.
Carolyn: This underscores the importance of not jumping to dark conclusions. Thanks for such a clear example.
He's got nothing but gal pals and it doesn't seem right
New York: Is it peculiar or worrisome for somebody to have no friends of the same sex, at all? I'm a sophomore in college and recently started dating a guy whose circle of pals looks like a harem. They're lovely, but I can't help thinking that it's a little bit weird for him to have NO male friends. Is it jerky of me to even wonder about this?
Carolyn: It's never jerky to wonder. The jerkiness possibilities are introduced when it's time to act on your concerns.
In fact, it's important not to tune out concerns just for fear of appearing mean or biased; what's the point of using all our astonishing sensory processing power to notice something unusual, if we're only going to ignore our own readings completely? Likewise, it's important not to jump to the easiest conclusion before you know enough to judge. Note that it's odd, and then see what else you see.